Thursday, February 10, 2011

Most "Jewish" Books

Jewcy released the 50 most 'essential' works of Jewish Fiction in the 20th century. Who doesn't love a good list (the list is life after all). The truth is that I have no idea what 'essential' means, but here is a list my personal list of the most Jewish books/short stories of the 20th century, then a list of the most 'Jewish' books. Please bare in mind that I am only literate by the standards of my own generation, for whom I make no apologies. I love the internets as much as they do.

10 Most Jewish Texts of the 20th century:

1. Kafka: The Hunter Gracchus - The Hunter Gracchus has wandered from place to place since the 4th century, experiencing in death a boredom that is little different from his life, or the lives of the people he meets. Who could call this anything but the most Jewish allegory ever, with the most Jewish message ever?

2. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Gimpel the Fool - Gimpel is treated badly by everyone he knows all his life long, yet persists in seeing the good in others. Through this he sees the folly of people's vanities and in old age achieves the kind of wisdom that can only be acquired by a lifetime of smiling through suffering. Maybe this should be #1. Ah well, indecision is pretty Jewish too.

3. Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March - I doubt any book ever got the optimism of postwar America better than this one. This 600-page monster is not about plot, nor is it about Augie's triumphs or setbacks. It is the many experiences of a young Jewish guy, amazed that the opportunities of the world are open to him in a way they never were to those who came before him. It's a book about his hunger to make the most of them. There is something zen

4. Amos Oz: A Tale of Love and Darkness - Oz's autobiography is far more than a chronicle of his early life. It's a time portal to the world of early Israel, an era when people were still astonished that such a place would exist. This is a chronicle of Israel's hopeful beginnings and growing disenchantment with itself. It's a story about reality intrudes on our illusions. Pretty Jewish, no?

5. Shalom Aleichem: Tevye the Dairyman - Yes, that Tevye. Actually, the tone of the book is not completely different from the musical, but far more extended. Beneath the humor, and the humanity, is a very dark examination of life in the Pale of Settlement, the upheavals of the early 20th century, the desire to preserve tradition in the face of assimilation, and how life must always carry on in spite of tragedy. In the words of Walter Sobchak, it's "as Jewish as fucking Tevye."

6. Isaac Babel: Odessa Stories -

Most Goyish Book of the 20th Century:

Most Goyish Book

Paradise Lost. I'm sorry, but no Jew would ever think to justify the ways of God to Man. Or for that matter, write the justification as epic poetry. Why didn't this guy go to med school?

1. Don Quixote: There is nothing more Jewish than watching your hopes be dashed in the most humiliating possible way for the amusement of others.

I, Claudius

Invisible Man

Winesburg, Ohio

Portnoy's Complaint

The Adventures of Augie March



Mrs. Dalloway


Uncle Vanya

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